One Man’s Treasure
Red’s Trading Post fills a unique niche in The Dalles economy
By Kathy Ursprung
Some folks may not see it, but Red’s Trading Post is a bit of a tourist attraction in The Dalles.
“We’ve often got people who come in with relatives or friends who are visiting from out of town,” says owner Eric Stovall.
Red’s is a hardware and salvage store in the traditional sense, but touched with products of artistic flare and human curiosity.
Walking into Red’s is like stepping into the 1950s. Towering shelves hold bulk bins of nuts, bolts, pipe, fittings and much more. There is not a plastic package in sight. Outside in the salvage yard, the color of porcelain—from pink to harvest gold to almond—traces the history of the home decorating industry.
Eric’s father, Frank, moved the store from Mill City to The Dalles following the worker migration as Detroit Dam was finishing construction and The Dalles Dam was starting.
“A lot of people were moving up here to work on the dam,” Eric says. “The aluminum plant was being built. The highway was being built. This was a happening place.”
Frank and Ruth Stovall moved to The Dalles with their young family, and Red’s opened January 2, 1953. The original wood structure with a metal roof burned a few years later, and Frank wisely rebuilt in concrete block.
Eric moved the store to its current location in 1992, but its history is still there for all to see. “I was probably 8 or 9 years old, and we would go to the Umatilla Army Depot and get wooden boxes,” Eric says. “Many of those wooden boxes are still around for shelves.”
A wishing well stands across from the front counter. It is not an actual well, but a massive suspended piece of oxidized copper ore that a man brought in to the Portland salvage shop Eric frequents. Beneath it are drifts of pennies dropped by the store’s many visitors since it relocated 25 years ago.
Metal is a big part of the business and has helped fuel Eric’s interest in geology. In the housewares section, he has a mineral display of metals amidst the crockery, cast iron, kerosene lamps and a variety of musical instrument remnants.
There is art everywhere. A pot-bellied man made of log cross-sections greets visitors outside the entry. Blown-glass fish rest on a shelf just above the front door inside—the work of local artist Andy Nichols, who has a longstanding relationship with the folks at Red’s.
The works of Red’s employees also adorn the place, including the whimsical men made of pipe fittings by artist George Cochis—known as George 1— and the cut-metal fish made by artist George Veloz—known as George 2.
“I love it here,” says George 2. “I like helping people and figuring things out.”
The other Red’s staff member is Bernie—a 23-year-old African gray parrot with a crimson tail—whose perch is at the entrance to housewares.
“He has a lot to say sometimes, but what he is particularly good at is begging like a dog,” Eric says. “If I’m eating something, he’ll sit up there and say, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ until you give him something.”
Red’s serves a few key needs in the community. Eric has put together a geology display of metals in the housewares section of Red’s. Working for years with various metals has helped inspire his interest.
“I think it’s important that we sell used merchandise,” Eric says. “We sell a wide variety of hardware, but we’re also able to recycle a lot of material through the used side. We take a lot of stuff to the dump, too. Glass breaks. Toilets break.”
Red’s also can fill gaps with parts that a lot of home stores don’t carry. Sometimes people aren’t sure exactly what they need.
“There’s always confusion,” Eric says. “They think you can see what they have in their mind.”
However, that has changed of late. The cellphone camera has become a vital aid to Red’s customers.
“The interface is terrific,” Eric says. And then there are the odds and ends.
“We sell a lot of stuff to people doing yard art, or just art in general,” Eric says. But 90 percent of what Red’s sells is new items.
“We have guys that come in every single day to get things for the company they work for—Crestline, Sapa, city of The Dalles,” Eric says.
Red’s also carries materials hobbyists use, such as a wide variety of plastics and metals.
Red’s draws a wide range of customers, many of whom have been loyal for decades.
“A guy came in last week who is 90 years old,” Eric says. “He hadn’t been here in a while, but there he was.”
Still, Eric feels the tide of changing times and his own age. The big box stores, the internet and decades of hauling heavy pipe around have taken their toll.
He would like to be able to sell the place. It is a busy time for his business with all the construction and manufacturing going on nearby, but Eric has weathered both boom and bust along with those industries. He speaks of the housing boom of the early 2000s as an example.
“When manufactured homes were placed anywhere in the Gorge, they had to be anchored against the wind,” Eric says. “We were selling several 500-foot reels of cable a week. We went from that to nothing. It was a shock.”
According to Eric, things have changed quite a bit. “You can’t hold it back forever,” he says.
Red’s Trading Post is at 2610 W. Second St., The Dalles.